Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Prayer for our Bodies

A Prayer for Our Bodies S.P.Taylor, 23 July 2008

Creator God, we come before you as the work of your own hands,
Acknowledging that we are created a little less than the angels
While also being as the dust that the wind drives away.
We are children of Eve and Adam, those who know life in fleshly bodies;
A flesh you inhabited in Jesus the Christ – and redeemed.
Receive, O gracious God, these our prayers for our bodies.

We pray for our legs and feet, our transports in life.
The first to know the pain of fatigue, and, the joy of dancing,
With over two million steps in a life of eighty years
Carrying us astray down the way called Broad,
Or guiding us in the pathways of righteousness and justice,
Our feet need the washing and anointing of your Spirit.

We pray for our shoulders and backs,
That bear the weight of toil, and the burdens of stress,
Sometimes simply because we refuse to be yoked to you.
Strengthen our backs to bear one another’s burdens,
Straighten our spines with courage, to stand for truth,
and make us limber, to bend without breaking in times of trial.

We pray for our arms and hands, which express our nature
as much as our eyes and mouth. With them we demonstrate
our strength, our compassion, our anger, our skills,
our gratitude, and our love. Teach us to use them wisely.
And may our hands, those marvels of intricate nerves, tendons,
muscles, and movement, serve as your hands to those in need.

We pray for our senses, our portals to the world you have given us.
Keep our senses sharp, and shape them to serve your good will.
As followers of Christ, allow us to smell the rich fragrance of forgiveness,
Taste both the sweet and bitter of life, see your presence in all we meet,
Hear peals of laughter as well as the cry of the brokenhearted, and
Touch with tenderness those whom the world labels untouchable.

We pray for our hidden and unseemly parts, and especially
For those bodily experiences that have caused us to feel undue shame.
You knew each of us as we were being formed in our mother’s womb,
and nothing in us or about us is outside the goodness of your creative will.
Tame that part of us that is most often sharp and unruly, the tongue.
Bring all parts of our flesh under your control.

We pray for our hearts and minds, centers of life and thought;
Both of which too easily become congested and overloaded.
By the power of your Spirit, cleanse our hearts and purify our minds.
Pace the beat of our hearts in unison with your great heart of love.
Guard our minds to think on those things that are honorable,
True, excellent, pure, praiseworthy, and pleasing in your sight.

We pray for those parts of our bodies that are tired and worn.
We seek your grace for those parts that are broken, or deformed.
As we struggle to ward off the effects of age and disease, we look to you
For healing glimpses of the bodies of glory not yet to be seen, while
Confessing our firm faith that if this earthly house we live in is destroyed
We have a building from God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Help us, O God, to love all our parts as you have given them,
And to live in bodily peace, in a world that idolizes bodily beauty.
Sanctify each person’s self-image, that we may not think too highly,
or too lightly, of the precious bodies you have made us for this life.
So that we may glorify and worship you in body and in spirit,
Living in every way unto you, the Giver of all good gifts. Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2008

"Into Thy Hands," Jesus' Plea for Vindication

“Into Thy Hands”, Jesus’ Plea for Vindication
Rev. Stephen Taylor Good Friday, 2008

What are usually considered the last words of Jesus from the cross are also words usually misunderstood. Our church used the seven utterances from the cross for services in the Lenten journey. The last one comes from Luke 23:44: “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” The usual interpretation of these words depict them as a final resignation before dying.

Jesus is at the point of death. He then “lets go” and expresses his trust in God to care for his “spirit”, by quoting from Psalm 31:5. The psalmist in Psalm 31 is overwhelmed with trouble, calls on God to be his safe place, and to make it right. “In you, O God I seek refuge, let me never be put to shame, in your righteousness deliver me…into your hand I commit my spirit.”

Such an interpretation, however nice it is, misses the point being made in the gospel. These are not words of resignation. They are an appeal for justification. Like the psalmist in distress, Jesus is appealing to the highest authority to vindicate him – to correct the wrongful judgment.

This alternate interpretation of Jesus’ words is supported by Luke’s usage of Psalm 31, the concept of death from a Jewish perspective, and Luke’s emphasis on salvation history. A vindication view of Jesus’ death and resurrection hleps us to see the entire “Jesus event” as God’s work of salvation instead of just focusing on the cross.

Luke’s placement of the quote from Psalm 31 as the Jesus’ last words cross sets the stage for his understanding of the resurrection. God overturns the verdict of this world that condemned Jesus - at worse as a blasphemer and at least as an insignificant revolutionary. For Luke, the redemptive work of Christ was not just his death on the cross, but his whole life: his incarnation, his teachings, his miracles, and his passion.

Luke concludes his gospel with two resurrection appearances. In the road to Emmaus appearance, he “interpreted to them all the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27) and is revealed to them in the eucharistic breaking of the bread. When Jesus appears to his disciples, he tells them that all his words and everything written about him (in the law, the prophets and the psalms) must be fulfilled and that they are to be witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:44-49). For Luke, the resurrection demonstrates that God hears and honors Jesus’ appeal and thus sets him as an authority higher than all the authorities of the world. In that authority and power the church is created, whose story Luke will continue in the Acts of the Apostles.

Luke’s “vindication” theory of atonement (compensation for a wrong) offers a necessary balance to the substitutionary theory of atonement so prevalent in our society. Substitutionary atonement basically asserts that God’s righteousness demands a penalty be paid for our sinfulness. Jesus, the sinless one, became our substitute, receiving the penalty and punishment for our sins. He “paid the price” for us by his suffering and death on the cross and we become heirs of that redemption by placing our faith in him.

The substitutionary theory of salvation has good Biblical grounding.(1) And it is “reasonable.” In other words, it makes sense to people. But it also leaves us with a couple of problems. One, it creates an image of God as an impartial and distant judge whose justice must be appeased. This view of God, to say the least, is limited, and makes it difficult to incorporate biblical images that show God as relational, nurturing, familial, and loving. Secondly, it tends to focus simply on Jesus’ death on the cross as what was/is important. Thus Christians have found it easy to ignore the life and teachings of Jesus, while claiming salvation through the cross.

The substitution theory needs the balance of Luke’s vindication theory, which shows God not as a distant, exacting enforcer of abstract truth and righteousness, but as an active, engaged defender of righteous and truth for God’s people. This relational aspect of God’s redemption becomes clearer with an understanding Jewish beliefs regarding death.

A couple of months ago I was at the vast Jewish cemetery on the Mt. of Olives and watched from a distance as a group of Orthodox Jews said the Kaddish (a ritual prayer) at a grave. They were there for the Shloshim (the 30 day ceremony) and will return at the close of the year for a final ceremony, the Yarzheit, when the deceased is considered to be finally, fully dead.

The Orthodox funeral practices reflect the belief that death is not just the cessation of life, but the beginning of dying. During the year of mourning the deceased undergoes the cancellation of their sins as their flesh decomposes. “One’s evil deeds were thought to be embedded in the flesh and to dissolve along with it.”(2) Jewish thought at the time of Jesus was that the painful disintegration of the flesh left the bones (which contain the personality) as a framework for a new body on the day of resurrection.

But at Christ’s death, God interceded. God overturned the judgment of the world and through the resurrection, prevented the dying process from taking place. An expiation of sin in the dying was not needed, as God vindicated Jesus. “Taken in its cultural context, the claim of resurrection for Jesus asserts that his death was wrong and has been overturned by a higher judge. This cultural interpretation contrasts sharply with a theological one: that Jesus’ death was right and necessary and required by God ‘to take away the sins of the world.’”.(3)

From this perspective, our salvation was not in the suffering of Jesus prior to his death. That suffering, at the hands of cruel men, was evil and wrong. Our salvation is in placing our lives in Christ, heeding his words and following in his footsteps, being born anew from the kingdom of this age into the kingdom of God.

“Into thy hands I commit my spirit,” Jesus’ last words on the cross, are a call for vindication. He has been wrongly condemned to death and uses the words of the psalmist, who in a similar situation appealed to God for justice. In the resurrection, God intervenes, overturning the power of this world and asserting the righteousness of Christ.

We can almost hear in the resurrection the message of God at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:35) “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.” For if we listen to and follow him, placing our lives in him, he who vindicated Jesus in the resurrection will also raise us up with him in the last day. Into your hands, Lord, we commit our spirits. Hear our plea, amen.

1. For example; Song of the Suffering Servant, Isaiah 53: “he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed” or 1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”
2. Malina, Bruce J, and Rohrbaugh, Richard L., 2003, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Second Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. Pg. 347.
3. Ibid. pg. 348.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Seasoned Life

One of the curses of our modern, fast-paced, always-in-cell-phone-range, life style is that everything quickly merges into a blur. It’s like looking at fence posts as you fly down the road at 70 miles per hour. Distinctions are lost. Even special experiences just become another blip on the screen.

There is little time to savor life, to taste it, enjoy it, or reflect on it. Parents tell me that their kids can’t eat lunch without asking “What’s for supper?” Emails follow us around on our Blackberry’s; and every weekend has a bevy of both obligations and opportunities. We can lose all perspective just keeping up, and soon the boredom of sameness sets in, even as so much is happening.

The subtle lie in all this is the message that if we just do a little bit “more,” then life will be wonderful. We sadly believe that if we find the “meaningful experience,” buy the “right” product, or participate in the really special activity, then that will stand out with meaning and joy, in spite of the blur. So, it’s like, if I run faster on the treadmill, I will feel rested. Yea, right.

All this is just more reason we need the Church and its non-conformist plodding through the year. We are designed for a Sabbath and for life to have its seasons. Frankly, a lot of people don’t understand this about the Church. For many, Sunday worship is just another thing to do, or “get done.” Time with friends worshipping our God just merges into the same ole’ blur as we move on to other things.

But the Church steadfastly issues Christ’s call: “Come unto me, all you who are heavy laden and weary and I will give you rest.” The Church says, “We will take time to sit in God’s presence (without a Game-boy or latte in hand to entertain us) and we will wait on one another for hymns, prayers, and communion.” The Church is governed not by the clock, but by eternity.

That’s one reason the Church lives a seasoned life. There are times of preparation (Advent and Lent) and times of celebration (Christmas, Easter and Pentecost). There are times of discovery (Epiphany) and a long season of just “Ordinary” time. Seasoned living teaches us the days are not the same, and that the days of waiting and longing are just as necessary as the days of fulfillment.

The rock carved city of Petra in Jordan is now listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. To reach the rock edifices, you have to walk over a mile through a deep, narrow canyon. It’s quite a hike. But at the last turn you catch a glimpse of the “Treasury” and then suddenly you are before it and are amazed at the grandeur of the ancient civilization. The moment would not be the same without the preparation enforced by the hike to get there.

Will your hike through Lent prepare you to truly celebrate the risen Christ at Easter? Will there be self-denial to mark the days? Will there be Sabbath rest and worship? Will there be service to others in Christ’s name? The opportunity to emerge from the blur is right here before us, but you alone will have to decide if you will live a seasoned life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, The Waste Land, begins with the words, “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire.” He was wrong. January is crueler by far. It mixes hope with reality, a more volatile combination.

The hopes are perennial, like the mums that awaken each year in my shrubbery bed. We may say we’re beyond making resolutions, but when the ball drops onto January 1, we’re thinking “New Beginning.” And with the new beginning comes new initiatives, which break through the soil of consciousness as resolves. “This year, with a little more effort, discipline, or maybe awareness, I will be better, do better, or achieve better in some particular part of my life.” Can’t help it. We’re born to hope, no matter how many previous resolutions we’ve let quietly die. The Great Seal of the state of South Carolina has everyone’s motto engraved in Latin: Dum spiro spero --“While I breathe, I hope.”

The hopes of January push us forward, while the realities of January push us down. The daily news reminds us it’s a tragic world where most people are narrowly concerned with keeping themselves warm and content. The December expenses and tax forms tag-team against us in the mailbox. The twinkling lights and indulgent fragrances of Christmas are gone and we have to face the same old work, the same old home, the same old everything, and yes, the same old self. Disillusionment and depression control the market in January.

The realities of January convict us with our limitations and failures. The hopes of January convict us with what could be. That is a powerful combination, January or anytime, because together they demand we admit our need of a Savior. And suddenly, Bethlehem’s famous son is insufficient as an infant in a manger. We need the Son of God, who boldly strides through our darkened and doubting hearts with redemption and real transformation in his hands. We need the divine Word-made-flesh to upgrade our earth-bound hopes with visions of the earth receiving its king. Babies are disarmingly cute and welcome us close into the warmth of love. But babies cannot stand in the gap for us, protect us from that which would undo us, direct us in the fray of conflict, or sacrifice on our behalf.

No wonder the ancient Church established the season of Epiphany following Christmastide. Epiphany means to “show forth” and re-tells the gospel stories in which the divine nature of Jesus shines through His humanity. In this Jesus of Nazareth, we see revealed the living God of purity, justice, and grace, who calls us to worship him in spirit and in truth.

We need reminding that the one we come to worship is the One whose holiness causes all creation to tremble. We must stand alongside the first disciples and remember our faith is more encounter than comprehension. In worship, we come before the Mysterious Christ, who brandishes mercy as a two-edged sword, slashing through our false goodness, pride, and pretensions of control, while surgically reshaping our hearts into His dwelling place.

Living in a land that applauds casual faith and callous consumerism -- and so bent on warfare as the only road to “peace,” we need Epiphany more than ever. Epiphany began on January 6th and leads us through weekly wonders to the ash-marked gate of Lent. It can be a time of true beginning for you and me, if we let the holy mystery of Christ’s presence become the source of our discipline.

January, the cruelest month says, “Get real, get ready, and get the help you need.” Epiphany responds, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who still makes the heavens and the earth, and you and me, and gets into our world so we won’t forget it.” So be it.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Broken Things

The other day a shoebox appeared on my desk in my home office. The handwritten label caused me to stop and see what it contained. Inside were a bracelet and a necklace that obviously needed repair. That was most appropriate, since the writing on the box said, “Broken things – for Daddy to fix.”

I wasn’t surprised at having the items brought to me. One of the pleasures of being a Dad is getting to play Mr. Fix-It. Broken toys, decorative items, jewelry and even electronics are brought to Dad to work some kind of “make it better” magic. Many times I’ve glued, re-shaped, stitched, untangled, patched and/or simply changed the batteries, to fix the broken offering. And “offering” is the correct word here. The item itself was not being offered to me as something to possess, but in bringing it to me, my child was offering a confidence in me.

This is an honor not to be taken lightly – to have a child place their trust in you. I always try to fix what I can, but not everything can be fixed. And when I tell her, I once again receive the gift of her confidence, “O.K., Dad,” she says (even when disappointed), “thanks for trying.”

As I sat looking at the box I realized it held some lessons for me. Its mere existence is a statement that my child expects things to get broken. We know life is going to have its broken things, and perhaps we need to have our own “box” ready. That sounds so simple, and yet how easy it is to forget it. For instance, do you get flustered when things don’t go as you planned, or frustrated over interruptions? Do you set aside resources to see you through the broken times? Are you able to make allowances for others, who in dealing with their own broken-ness, don’t live up to your standards? Have we really learned to expect broken things in this life?

The second lesson of the “Broken Things” shoebox is that it’s better when you don’t keep the broken things to yourself. My daughter expects things to get broken, and created the box to bring such items to my attention. Not only that, she comes to her Mom or me when there are things that won’t fit in her box - things such as disappointments in a friend, hurt feelings, apprehension over a test, or maybe even uncertainty about what she hears on the news. She’s still young enough to remember what a lot of us adults have forgotten. We need one another to help us deal with the broken things of life.

On any given Sunday the congregation is full of people who are privately holding on to broken things in their lives. They may be struggling with conflicts at home, pressures at work, disappointments in themselves, or uncertainty about their world and their future. We know it’s OK to admit physical broken-ness and ask for prayers. But to place any other type of broken-ness in the box feels like admitting weakness or failure – things that reveal just how human we are.

The shoebox on my desk makes me think of the people in my life to whom I can go with broken things. First of all there’s Cynthia, my friend, soul-mate and wife, who loves me as I am. There’s my family, who by fate of blood line or marriage, has to put up with me. There are certain colleagues, those who have joined me in investing trust into our friendship. And there are friends who have risked admitting and acknowledging the presence of broken things in our lives, and have demonstrated acceptance and love. These are the people who make Christ real to me.

Who are the ones to whom you can hand your “shoebox?” Have you taken them for granted or have you found ways to show your appreciation for their presence? Have you become content with one or two to take care of your stuff, or have you risked finding others, who may themselves need to bring their “shoebox” to you? And, most importantly, are there those with whom you can together take your broken things to God?

A final thought comes from the shoebox. When my daughter puts something in the box, she leaves it there and goes on off to play. Kelsey trusts I will take care of it. I know the “Broken Things” shoebox won’t hold many of the important things that will one day need to be fixed. There are some things just too big for any such box – any many things far beyond my ability to repair. My prayer is that she, and I, and you, will have learned to take such things to God, and to leave them there in His care – to make our offering of trust because of Christ’s offering for us. Isn’t that what it means to be a child of God? For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26) - 2001, Stephen

Friday, November 2, 2007

A Stay at Iona

I hurry past by St. Martin’s Cross, a fourteen-foot Celtic cross carved from a single slab and standing sentinel since the 9th Century, on my way into the sanctuary of the Iona Abbey. Fellow pilgrims are already waiting mutely in contemplation and from somewhere unseen a flute’s melody is calling us, the sheep outside, and possibly all creatures to pause before their Maker. I slip into an open seat in the choir stalls and open my ritual book to the morning praise. It is time to worship, but there is no rush. Indeed, that is the unspoken message of this place, this hallowed island. The rounded rocks along the shore during my morning walk had even glinted the message, “there is time enough for all things.”

The journey here attempted to prepare me for this. A nine-hour flight from the states, crossing from Edinburgh on the trains, waiting for the ferries, and the excruciatingly long bus ride across the desolate island of Mull on a one lane road, together uniformly declared that time was no longer master of all. Fellow travelers and I crossed to Iona on the Fionnphort ferry at dusk and walked the final mile to the cloisters of 15th century monastery. There we were welcomed with warm soup, the chatter of pilgrims meeting one another, and finally, the stability of evening prayers.

Perhaps that quality was already there when St. Columba arrived from Ireland in 563 CE. After all, the marble from the abandoned quarry on the south end of the island has been carbon dated at 2 billion years, a vast difference from the 290 million year old rocks just across the strait. Columba and his followers established a monastic life together, giving the hours of the day to God in prayer, work, and reading and copying the scriptures. From that base, they carried the gospel of Christ to the mainland and onto the continent. In response, pilgrims came. Chieftains and kings came. Bishops and commoners came. They came to meet God in this thin place.

I had come for the same reason. On a month’s sabbatical from my church, I wanted to delve into my Scotch-Irish heritage and the Celtic way of faith. Yet my journal from those first days at Iona reads, “the excitement of exploration and discovery is not what I am seeking, but a better sense of peace, wholeness, and companionship with God.” A stay at Iona offers that, without forcing it.

The members of the Iona Community welcome you into their paced life. There is time enough for worship, for meals in common, for assigned chores, for solitude, for sharing, and for enjoying the beautiful landscape. I was surprised how “at home” I felt in a strange place and with a different pattern to the day. But in giving myself over to the communal life, I began to experience the rhythm of abundant time. Breathe in; breathe out. Trust God, and let go. The tide goes out, and the tide comes in. Worship flows out into the world, and gathers into the sanctuary. Trust God, and let go.

Iona is an experience as much as it is a destination. You can find out more about the Iona Community at Their liturgy and music is published by Wild Goose Publications ( and it’s worth a look. But for a taste of the Iona timelessness near to God, make the pilgrimage.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Three Churches

Sermon: The Three Churches October 14, 2007 1 Peter 1:18-2:10

Stories have always been a part of my life. Perhaps the same is true for you. I hope so. Some of my earliest memories are of listening to stories. My Dad’s brother, Uncle Joe, had amazing ones. He would sit on our porch on week-end evenings and tell us about donkey races, the woman who got up out of her casket, or funny things that had happened.

Then there were the classic folktales told by my mother:
The Ugly Duckling, The Three Billy Goats Gruff,
Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Boy who Cried “Wolf”,
Stone Soup, The Shoe-maker and the Elves,
Jack and the Bean-stalk, and Rumpelstiltskin, to name a few.

And of course there were the Biblical stories, which she knew how to make come alive. Once when I was five, my older brother and I were sick several days with the measles. My mother pulled out the sleeper bed from the sofa for the two of us to spend the day on. We did get to watch some TV, but what I remember was that on that sofa bed, the children of Israel escaped from Egyptian captivity. Using my little plastic army men, toy farm animals, and a great variety of other household items, she recreated the story of the plagues on Egypt and the Israelites’ escape across the Red Sea.

One good thing about stories is that once you have the basic form, you can pretty well adapt the story. I did this often with my girls. I’d have them name an animal and off we’d go with the tale.

There was one made-up story that was told often in our house. It is the story of Tony the Turtle. Tony was sad because all the animals on the farm seemed to have a job to do. But he couldn’t do anything, except walk “slowly and carefully.” The horse pulled the cart, the dog guarded the house, the chickens laid the eggs, and so on. But Tony the turtle just seemed to be in the way. However, one day, the cow called Tony over. Her leg was hurt and she couldn’t carry her bucket of milk to the farmer’s house. She needed someone who could walk slowly and carefully. She put the bucket on Tony’s back and off he went, not spilling a drop. Tony finally realized that even though he was different from the other animals on the farm, he had abilities that were important as well.

A couple of years ago, Lauren called home from Texas to tell us something funny. It seems she and her friends were sitting around talking about their childhood. As they spoke of their favorite fairy tales and bedtime stories, Lauren said, “yeah, like Tony the Turtle.” All her friends just stared at her like she was hallucinating. She’d thought Tony the Turtle was as famous as Barney the Purple Dinosaur! When her friends told her they had never heard of Tony the Turtle, she was aghast.

Well, if you read the Trumpeteer, you know my wife told a story in her church the other week. And since stories belong to us all, I decided to borrow it. It is the story of the three churches.

Once upon a time, in a place not too far away, there lived three pigs. Now these pigs weren’t just any pigs. These pigs were good ‘ole Methodist pigs – and these pigs were their mother’s pride and joy. But one day, Momma Pig called them together and said this: “You are good pigs – in fact, you are great pigs! But there is a time in all pigs’ lives when they must leave their home and do what they are called to do. You pigs come from a long line of church builders, and that is what you must do.” The pigs were saddened at the thought of leaving their mother, but each immediately began to think of the church he would build. So, they packed their bags and briefcases, and set off to their new adventure.

The first pig was the youngest – and he had much to prove. He wanted to be first to build a church. And he was quite the pleaser! He read his piggy Bible and saw where Jesus went about the towns and cities meeting the needs of people, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, teaching and guiding them. He decided that if he was going to build a church for others to attend, he must give them everything they wanted.

So he began to ask others what they wanted in a church. He was surprised to hear so many different things. The first piggy he met said she wanted a church that did a lot of mission work for unfortunate pigs. One said he wanted a church with a great praise band and contemporary worship. One said she wanted a church that was quiet and meditative. Another wanted a church that had a lot to give her children – one that wouldn’t require much from her. One said he wanted a church that held to tradition – that honored past glories. One said she wanted a church that had a great preacher – one who always held her attention during worship. He even found one pig who wanted to be able to drink coffee during worship!

One said he wanted a church that served great meals after every service. And one little pig who actually wore a watch said she wanted a church where the sermons never lasted over 10 minutes! Soon, the church was built – and somehow the youngest pig was able to provide all the things everyone wanted.

But one day, the Big Bad Wolf came to church. He looked at the pig, who was weary from trying to please everyone, and said, “I am going to huff and puff and blow your church down.” No, No, said the youngest pig, not by the hair of my chiny, chin, chin – here have a latte and enjoy the music!

But, the wolf huffed and he puffed – and he didn’t have to puff a whole lot – he just puffed dissatisfaction throughout the church. And very soon, the church came tumbling down – because pigs who worry only about what they want, easily become dissatisfied.

The middle pig was a pig who liked to have things in order; who liked everything black and white. When he was a little pig, he worked very hard to stay in the lines when he colored. And this pig was determined not to make the same mistake as his brother. He wanted to build a better church. He read his piggy Bible and saw where Jesus taught about doing the right things. He loved reading, and re-reading the Ten Commandments. So, he decided it would be best to build a church that had absolute beliefs and truths.

Soon this pig was surprised to find there were so many beliefs – so many that he decided he better build a bigger church. And he wrote a whole book with a lot of rules and a lot of beliefs that they were to live by. Rules like:
-only pigs could attend their church – in fact,
-only pink pigs could attend church;
-only pink pigs who had made no major mistakes could attend;
And the rules went on and on. There were so many rules and truths, that the membership of the church was small and much of the members’ time was spent looking at all those who didn’t measure up. The second pig said, “Now I have a church that will last.”

The Big Bad Wolf heard about this church and decided to visit. And although it was obvious he wasn’t a pig, nor was he pink, he forced his way in. He looked at the middle pig, who now had a deep furrow in his brow from judging and keeping rifters out, and said, “I am going to huff and puff and blow your church down.”

No, No, said the middle pig, not by the hair of my chiny, chin, chin. Not by the rules of right of order, and not by our set of Biblical beliefs! But the wolf huffed, and he puffed – but this church was sturdier than the last. Blowing dissatisfaction into the church did not really work. So he huffed and puffed again – and he blew pride and judgment! It was amazing how quickly the cracks came, and how they got bigger and bigger - and soon the church came tumbling down.

Then it was time for the oldest pig to build his church. Being the oldest, this pig had more life experience and more wisdom. He knew he must find something different with which to build his church. He had spent much of his childhood with his grandfather, who was the greatest church-builder of all.

The oldest pig read his piggy Bible, and he was impressed with what Jesus said about loving God with everything you are, and loving your neighbor as yourself. After a lot of thought, he decided to find pigs who truly cared about others. Now, this took longer, because there were some who said they loved others, but their actions proved a different truth about them. He decided he better watch these pigs and not simply take them at their word.

When he found a pig who loved God, and truly loved others, he would ask him or her to come to a particular spot on a particular day. The number of pigs he invited was not really large, but they all seemed excited about getting together. The Big Bad Wolf, who had already destroyed two churches, decided he would show up at their little gathering as well.

The day came when all the pigs who truly loved others gathered – and the third pig was surprised that there were more pigs there than he’d expected. He found that those pigs he had invited – who truly loved – came to the gathering bringing others – bringing pigs of all types – little pigs, pink pigs, brown pigs, dirty pigs, clean pigs, fat pigs, thin pigs – all very different, but all loving others.

They came that day, to that appointed place and said, “Where’s the church?” And the third pig smiled and said,
I am the church. You are the church.
We are the church together.
All who follow Jesus, all around the world –
Yes, we’re the church together.

Well, the Big Bad Wolf just laughed and laughed – and he huffed and puffed – and he blew and blew. But the pigs ignored him. He huffed dissatisfaction, but the pigs were too busy singing, “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.”

Then the Wolf puffed pride and judgment. But the pigs brought out fried chicken and macaroni and green beans and biscuits and strawberry shortcake and began sharing with one another. They even fixed a plate for the wolf, as they shared what they had with neighbor pigs who didin’t have anyone to care for them.

Once again, the Wolf huffed and puffed, and blew and blew – but no one paid him any attention. As far as I know, the Wolf is still huffing and puffing today – blowing dissatisfaction and pride and judgment wherever he can. But the pigs-who-love keep coming back. And when they come together, they sing,
“I am the church. You are the church.
We are the church together.
All who follow Jesus, all around the world –
yes, we are the church together."

And that’s how this story ends.

Notes: "The Three Churches" story written by the Rev. Cynthia C. Taylor, 2007. Lyrics to "We Are The Church" by Richard R. Avery and Donald S. Marsh, 1972 copyright Hope Publishing Company.